Music used to be all about gangs. Impenetrable units. From the Beach Boys to the Beastie Boys, the Monkees to the Monks, through the weird window of song, listeners could briefly have an “in” to a secret club. When the record stopped, the mystery remained and that was the trick – play it again, buy the next one. But inevitably, that unified front will slip, someone’ll quit, individuals will grow bellies, they will open salmon farms. So how do you keep the once-perfect dream alive? These days, you don’t make a band at all. You make a brand.
Any tenuous metaphor about maintaining the mask of youth would be lacking without the band/brand of the moment – Daft Punk. French electronic duo Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter have maintained a steely air of mystery since donning sleek sci-fi headgear around the turn of the century (before this they wore a selection of seemingly unrelated and unfetching masks). With the warm disco embrace of recent single “Get Lucky”, Daft Punk are everywhere this year but it feels like these loveable robots have been around forever. They are not of our time – both classic and futuristic – your dad thinks they were in Star Wars, yet they’ll never grow old.
Less likely to end up on dad’s discman is notoriously elusive ambient duo Boards of Canada. The much-lauded Scots – like Daft Punk – rarely show their faces or give interviews. But their recent marketing campaign was fiendishly absurd and indirect, involving a 36-digit code made up of hidden messages discovered in disparate and obscure locations ranging from unannounced Record Store Day vinyls to brief adverts on the Cartoon Network. The hunt to find out what it all meant (new album, surprise!) was more characteristic of an elaborate advertising scheme than anything to do with music. But it was clever, it involved people, and made me write things in a magazine.
Of course, you could just opt for the Bowie route. He’s not a band, I grant you, but he’s not quite a person either. Brand Bowie has been a masterstroke of shape-shifting unknowability for over 40 years and his recent tactic of just doing nothing for a really long time before surprising everyone by saying “I’m still here”, is probably the most poker-faced move of the lot. He stayed so still we all thought he was a logo.
For a music fan, to even discuss bands as brands is a little painful – a little soulless – the songs should speak for themselves. But it’s important to remember there’s far more mysterious and interesting ways to make an impact today than the shock value of three or four “dudes” in matching leathers coming to steal the womenfolk in a town near you. Although your dad would probably totally dig that, too.
Tom Hall is a contributor for Monocle.